The term SUV is one of the most bastardized terms in the automotive world. SUV is the acronym for a sports activity vehicle and sometimes in American parlance referred to as a suburban activity vehicle, the connotation being that it was a truck like or station wagon like vehicle which could go off-road and fitted with 4wd and would carry the entire family when needed. The segment is booming and as at the end of 2016 the global share of the SUV market was a staggering 27.4% of the total automobiles sold and more seriously 50% in the luxury auto segment. With this huge growth of the segment every manufacturer now wants a piece of the pie and has been spawning SUV after SUV with hardly a semblance of sportiness and with nary any off-road ability labeling them as SUVs purely on their appearance of being a car jacked up on stilts. The SUV has now become the king of the highway and most SUVs hardly get their tyres muddy. Not to be outdone, all luxury marques from Rolls Royce to Bentley, Jaguar to the German trinity all have either one or more SUVs in their range.
Maserati, a name not familiar to many in Sri Lanka and a brand not seen on our roads, barring one or two early car examples, was one of the late entrants to the global SUV bandwagon. In keeping with their brand mission of being a maker of “ultra luxury performance automobiles, with timeless Italian style, and accommodating bespoke interiors with effortless signature sounding power”, they really took their time to get the product exactly right to be in sync with their mission statement and finally, along comes what they call the Maserati of all SUVs the Levante. As is usual with Motor, we have the privilege of testing and reporting on the first example of the Maserati Levante on Sri Lankan soil. This car was brought down by Bavarian Motors (Pvt) Ltd, who have a track record of bringing down unusual and desirable exotica.
First impressions are usually the best and on that score the Levante scores top marks with its large signature grille resembling prison bars and the still to be familiar Trident badge and the triple side air vents on the fenders, which are all trademark Maserati cues. This one is a very large SUV and shows, its wide, long and standing on its 19 inch alloys looks very imposing and handsome and masculine to say the least. The engine is a 2987cc 60 degree V6 diesel turbo pumping out 275 BHP @ 4000RPM and an immense 600NM of torque at a lowly 2000 rpm and coupled to an on demand 4WD system. As SUVs go this one too is lavished with all the mod cons befitting premium SUVs and the interior, in keeping with their stated motto of “accommodating bespoke interiors” is truly a sight to behold. They have commissioned renowned Italian designer par excellance Ermengildo Zegna to wave his magic wand to the interior. The hide from the best fed cows in Italy are combined with fine needle stitching that the Italians are masters at, and married to the finest textured mulberry silk for the seat inserts. The silk also adorns the door panels, sun visors and the roof lining to make this one of the best interiors of SUVs currently seen on our roads currently. The interior is really a canvas of Italian design and flair and is a fabulous place to spend time in and listen to Pavarotti belting out his best via the premium Bowers and Wilkins stereo. The interior is pretty spacious and so is the boot at 580 litres, and leg, head, shoulder room are all to premium first class cabin spec, that owners of such exotica would be accustomed to, so no more boxes to tick.
Diesel and Maserati are as sacrilegious as Satan and the Pope, you would say but Maserati thinks otherwise and have combined the two maintaining their pledge to provide performance automobiles to their customers. The steering surprisingly in this day and age is a hydraulic unit and its size and tactile feel is great and is multifunctional with large Italian style paddles. Upon firing up the diesel unit I was a bit surprised at the lack of any NVH (noise, vibration, harshness).The Levante is equipped with four drive modes of which two are for off-road use, re affirming that this SUV is not meant only for asphalt and show. The acceleration and steering feedback are great and driving away one is hard put to discern that this is a diesel, but to the keen ear a remote exhaust clatter gives the game away, but fret not as Maserati did not want the diesel to be a spoil sport to their avowed mission of “effortless signature sound” so in their infinite wisdom have fitted a Maserati sound module which provides artificial V8 type rumble which is switchable and also auto activates in sport. The sound from the now must have quad exhaust tips , adds another dimension to the drive as it restores the sportiness of the SUV. Full blown acceleration is rapid, especially for a diesel but is not mind numbing, but certainly in the league of the big Beemers and the Cayennes. The rated acceleration to 100kmh is a respectable 6.9 secs. The torque is very linear and comes in a nice controlled swell all the way from 2000rpm. The eight speed box is very responsive and works very well in tandem with the paddles. The ride on the comfort setting is fabulous and despite the Masser being a sports car maker they have supplanted a suspension system which manages to isolate the spacious and accommodating interior in total from the potholes and ruts and ripples that are making a comeback on our roads again. Being a rather tall and large vehicle I was hoping that it might be rather unwieldy round the twisties, but incredibly the Maserati genes shine through and the SUV corners in exemplary fashion with a bit of body roll, but with so much assurance that you hardly need to worry. It’s a tribute to Maserati that they were not tempted to use the underpinnings from the parent Chrysler group hardware of Jeep, but rather insisted on using the platform from the Ghibli and Quattrporte sports car platform, and bestowed the Levante with the ideal 50/50 weight distribution front to rear, so thank you and well done Maserati. I guess these are the advantages to be had for coming late to the party. It is absolutely car like to drive and is a worthy top contender for diesel SUVs in terms of driving dynamics, comfort and stopping power. So Hurrah for Maser.
Living with the Levante
If you’ve got the money and the garage to house it go for it, as it would be the best piece of real estate you can park. With its designer interior and drop dead gorgeous looks it would be the ultimate carriage for yourself and your wardrobe of designer clothing and LV baggage and hardware. For those whose tastes border on the exclusive, the opulent and the exotic this is a hell of a chariot to be seen in. It would satisfy all your motoring needs from the humdrum to the extreme and yet you could be seen as caring for the polar bears in the arctic and the elephants in Yala due to its low emissions and could be smiling away at the pumps with a consumption bordering on the ridiculous @ 7.2 litres /100 km of diesel. With its huge 80 litre tank you could have a range in excess of a 1000 km per fill up, just fancy that. In the unlikely event one wants to venture into the wilds in your expensive designer chariot and don’t want to get your valuable Gucci sneakers muddy, fret not as its got great off-road ability(did not try it) and wading heights of almost a 40mm lift in off-road mode over standard and a total lift in excess of 50mm. The spirit of Neptune via the trident is very much alive in the Levante as it stirs your senses at every turn and every touch. The Levante is named after a warm Mediterranean breeze that can change to a gale force wind suddenly, and this best sums up the Levante that was tested.
It’s a great SUV with a lot of customization and bespoke option possibilities and a fantastic array of paint colours that include 3 metallic, 4 mica, and 6 metallescent finishes. It would be preposterous to Mention Maserati with Toyota in the same sentence, but in our muddled automobile market price wise the fully duty paid Maserati Levante diesel is priced circa the top spec Toyota Landcruiser diesel, which seems the preferred choice of purchase, up to now, for those who buy the permits from those poor downtrodden servants of the people who frequently fling garbage at one another in the house by the Diyawanna, and who helped themselves to the duty free facility to then flagrantly, sell it for the princely sum of 20-25 million Rs. The comparison is like chalk and cheese, where the Levante is priced ahead of the German trio of BMW, MERCEDES Audi and Porsche in most markets but here in sunny Sri Lanka due to various extraneous reasons it seems to be priced on par with the Land Cruiser Sahara, one duty free with a permit premium the other fully duty paid.
To my mind there is absolutely no choice and no comparison, ask yourself the question why buy a permit clouded Toyota when for the same money you can have a SUV at the highest end of the spectrum at the same price? The choice is akin to a suit from Hugo Boss or one from K-mart, is there a choice to make? Let the readers and the buyers be the best judges of that, as most often in Sri Lanka logic and good sense are not the drivers for buying a car. So if this tickles your fancy, head down to Bavarian Motors.
Engine 2,987cc turbo diesel
275bhp @ 4000rpm
600Nm @ 2000-2600rpm
Transmission 8 speed automatic
Four wheel drive
Suspension Front and rear
Brakes Front and rear
Wheels & Tyres 19inch alloys
Kerb Weight 2,109kg
Fuel Tank 80 litres
Performance 0-100km/h in 6.9s